If you’ve ever watched someone weep and sweat their way through a pile of suicide wings and wondered why they do it, the answer is quite simple — it tastes amazing. As someone of West Indian descent who was raised from the womb on curried chicken, I can tell you that I’d rather jump off a bridge than give up spicy food! The robust flavour, the tingling sensation on your taste buds after a spicy meal — it’s pure satisfaction.
Besides being blissfully delicious, however, spicy foods also carry some surprising health benefits. Here are some important reasons to spice up your favourite meals with some peppery goodness.
1) Feel The Calorie Burn
Indulging in a spicy meal may actually help you lose weight. According to a 2015 study carried out over seven years and involving more than 485 000 participants (published in the British Medical Journal and summed up here by the New York Times), consuming a plate of spicy food increases the rate by which your body burns calories by up to 8% because it ‘revs up’ your metabolism.
The compound that gives hot chilies their kick — and their main active ingredient — is called capsaicin. Upping your capsaicin intake might also ease your appetite, according to a 2009 study from the journal Clinical Nutrition. In an experiment involving 27 healthy volunteers, researchers found that consuming a combination of capsaicin and green tea led subjects to feel less hungry and take in fewer calories. And the hotter the chili, the more capsaicin it contains.
2) Heart Health
Brand new 2017 results from a large prospective study done at the University of Vermont, and published in PLoS ONE, showed “a 13 percent reduction in total mortality — primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke”, corroborating the findings of a similar 2015 study in China. The reason? Consuming chili peppers seems to negate the effects of bad cholesterol (also known as HDL). Additionally, capsaicin helps to fight inflammation which is one of the factors that can lead to a heart attack.
3) Mental Wellness
Who knew that hot foods can actually help you chill out after a hard day? Spicy foods boost production of feel-good hormones such as serotonin, so they may help ease depression and stress. According to Prevention Magazine, curcumin was put to the test against a traditional antidepressant, fluoxetine in a study published in Phytotherapy Research. A 1000 mg daily dose of curcumin was a mere 2-5% less effective than the pharmaceutical drug, and demonstrated no unexpected side effects.
4) Nutritional Value
Whether you like them hot or sweet, peppers are chock full of vitamins. The addition of fresh chilies to your meals can help you reach your daily recommended intake for vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, green and red peppers have a variety of essential minerals and high levels of vitamin C. Half a cup of chopped red or yellow sweet peppers has almost double your daily needs of vitamin C, and one cup of chopped banana pepper has 36 percent of your daily vitamin B6 and 10 percent of folate (also a B vitamin); red peppers contain 35 and 7 percent, respectively; and yellow peppers, 20 and 10 percent.
OK, Time To Get Cooking (And Sweating)
Now that you know some of the potential benefits of chowing down on spicy foods, it’s time to kick up your meals with some peppers and spices that add loads of heat and flavour to otherwise bland dishes!
And you don’t just have to reach for a bottle of hot sauce to add spice to your meals– there are TONS of creative cooking techniques that will help you incorporate peppers into your diet. But start slow if you’re new to spicy foods. Chili peppers come in hundreds of different varieties, each with a unique flavor, color, shape and heat factor.
About 80 percent of the capsaicin in a chili pepper is in its ribs and seeds, which is why much of the heat is removed when these items are taken out, so leave the insides of the peppers intact for maximum heat. (If you can take it!) For those who want to put themselves to the test, habañero and Scotch bonnet peppers are two of the hottest chili pepper varieties available. Other popular varieties that vary in their spiciness include cayenne, chipotle, jalapeno and ancho.
On top of all of this, spices can also add heat to your favourite dishes. Curry powder is a blend of spices including cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek and many others. There are a variety of curry powders that differ in flavor and span a wide range of heat from mild to hot. Curry powder is used in Indian, Thai and Jamaican food. Chile powder, which is used in Mexican and Latin recipes, is also a blend of spices. It contains a variety of peppers as well as garlic, cumin and oregano and can also have different levels of heat depending on the blend.
Here are some quick, simple ways to add a little more spice to your life:
- Add chopped chili peppers or dried chili flakes to healthy sautéed vegetables to turn up the spice factor
- Add a couple of tablespoons of chopped chili or jalapeno peppers to your favorite corn bread recipe
- Add minced chili peppers to yogurt and use as a condiment or dip for raw peppers
- Add jalapenos to add some zing your favorite tuna salad recipe
- Add an Indian flavour to your chicken salad by tossing in a teaspoon of curry powder
- Keep a container of cayenne pepper on the table right next to the pepper mill, so you and your family can add a pinch of extra spice to any of your meals
- Cayenne pepper and lemon juice make great complements to cooked bitter greens such as collards, kale and mustard greens
Okay, now you’re ready — get sweating, folks!